One common misconception about illiberal campus sexual assault adjudication systems—where students can be tried and found guilty of serious crimes in amateur kangaroo court procedures stacked against the accused—is that they just represent the routine PC-ism we have come to expect from the Ivory Tower. In truth, the problem is much more serious than that. Campus procedures for resolving sexual misconduct might have always been messy, but the unprecedented crackdown we have been seeing over the last several years originated not with campuses, but with the federal government. As Glenn Reynolds has noted, the Office of Civil Rights in Education issued a memo in 2011 effectively rewriting rape law, forcing colleges to implement stringent policies, and threatening them with a loss of funding if they didn’t get in line.
Since then, there has been a major pushback—from civil liberties groups, from some lawmakers, and even from the courts, which are increasingly ruling that campus policies are so unfair that they are illegal. But a new in-depth report from the Chronicle of Higher Education shows that the federal government shows no signs of backing off. In fact, the Office of Civil Rights is leaning even harder on colleges to enact ever-more draconian policies:
The latest settlements show that federal inquiries into how colleges handle sexual assault are growing longer, tougher, and more damning. While Michigan State and Virginia aren’t the first institutions found to have violated Title IX, campus officials and higher-education lawyers see those judgments as particularly harsh. With so much national attention on ending sexual violence, federal enforcers are pointing fingers at colleges. […]
But some wonder if the government’s stricter stance is more about scoring points with activists and taking credit for progress on a highly sensitive issue. The civil-rights office, say campus administrators and consultants, has shifted from helping colleges comply with Title IX to almost automatically indicting them. The institutions under investigation for allegedly mishandling reports of sexual assault now number 144.
There is clearly a role for the federal government in ensuring compliance with Title IX. But the law was never intended to be what the current administration has turned it into: a bludgeon for forcing campuses to adopt an ideologically-driven sexual assault witch hunt that neglects basic principles of due process. Sexual assault is a very serious crime and it’s obviously no wonder that colleges and the federal government alike are trying to crack down on it. But it’s precisely because the crime is so serious that it belongs in the courts, not before amateur panels of campus bureaucrats. It’s time for Congress—or, if that’s not possible, the next administration—to put a stop to the mess of the system the Office of Civil Rights has created.